Ever since I signed a three-book contract earlier this year, I've been going through this thing. Where I tell someone about it and they exclaim, "Oh, you must be so thrilled! Congratulations!" "Thanks, I'm terrified, actually," I say, fidgeting in my seat and feeling my cheeks heat—certain the person will think me ungrateful, but unable to lie and feign joy. And then the rest of the words tumble out of me. About the anxiety, the depression, the fear that I will fail. Nothing the person asked to hear. All they want is to be happy for me and I can't allow them, or myself, that moment.
My struggles with mental illness are no secret. I was in a depressive low even before my agent emailed me in March to let me know an editor wanted this book, this series. I had commitments to write a column for Frolic.Media that I kind of just...bailed on. (Sorry, Frolic!) I was barely poking at new fiction projects. The book news just sent me deeper into the spiral. Weeks turned into months of darkness. Of staring at my Word document in despair. Of listening to that voice in my head, whispering like Iago, "You're going to fail. You're going to die before you finish this book." Pushing myself out of the house—and ostensibly out of my head—inevitably meant going to local bars...and "celebratory" cocktails quickly turned into "drink until I cry" cocktails and "black out when I get home" cocktails.
Before people rush in with well-meaning advice...I have a therapist. We've upped from monthly to twice a month. I have a new psychiatrist scheduled. I (try to) go to an exercise class every week. No, I'm not going to try yoga. Yes, I've tried meditation. This is not about asking for help. This is an honest look at the utter clawing terror that steals joy, that inhibits creativity, that wants to ensure we don't reach our full potential. Because I know exactly what this is. I know what's causing it. I know why I push past the third-drink happies to the fourth-drink miseries. No amount of self-awareness actually helps stop it. And neither does Downward-Facing Dog, okay?
I somehow managed to wrangle the low-energy slump, the morose drinking, and get myself to a safer dynamic. Or so I thought. Pulling out of the depressive nosedive offered no respite. Because the anxiety spiked soon after. The physical symptoms just as overwhelming as the fatigue and fog of depression. "Bees in my chest," I call it. Plus insomnia. Paranoia. A nice dash of hypochondria. I don't have to worry about getting too sloshed at the local bars anymore, because panic sets in and I just leave. I try to hang out with people, so I have other voices to listen to besides my own, but the anxiety just crashes right back over me like a wave once I'm alone. "What did you say to them? You're so stupid. What are they going to think of you? Log kya sochenge? Shobai ki bolbe?"
I spend more time worrying than I do writing. My book is due in October. I'm obsessed with not making that deadline. "You just have 30,000 words to go. You can do this," says the tiny rational part of my brain. "No, you can't. And if you do, it's just going to suck. Everybody's going to hate it. Everybody's going to hate you," counters the louder voice, the depression-and-anxiety voice. It's relentless. Unforgiving. Enumerating every single thing that could possibly go wrong between now and October 1, every single way I could self-destruct. I have to be perfect, my book has to be perfect, and of course I'm not and it's not, so why even bother?
I keep looking up weighted blankets on Amazon. Researching various CBD products. Trying a white noise app at night. Taking half a Klonopin when I have no other recourse. Looking into anything, absolutely anything, that might calm me the fuck down for a minute. And then another minute. Enough minutes for me to finish this goddamn novel. It feels like a fruitless search...not just for a temporary anxiety cure, but for peace of mind I never had to begin with.
"Oh, you must be so thrilled! Congratulations!"
I so wish I was. I'm incredibly lucky that other people are thrilled for me. I'm glad they're feeling what I can't and I hope that, one day, I'll be able to catch up.